Cats are my favorite pet animals for several reasons. They’re smart, independent, clean, affectionate, and intuitive—or at least most of them are. They also have no concept of what’s mine is mine—especially when it comes to my plants. While I find this behavior (for the most part) charming, others may disagree. Here are some helpful hints to keep the toxic plants out of your home and to keep your non-toxic plants from getting chewed on and dug up.
Cats love plants. An outdoor cat will spend a large part of his time rolling in the grass and chewing on anything that looks interesting. For indoor cats, plants allow the scents of the outside world into a cat’s life. One way to keep your plants happy is to give your cats some plants of their own and make the other plants less attractive.
Important points to keep in mind:
1) If your cat likes to chew on houseplants, make sure there aren’t any poisonous ones. Many common houseplants can make your cat sick. Some are deadly. Among the most dangerous are dieffenbachia, oleander, lily of the valley, azalea, philodendron, rhododendron, various ivies, mistletoe, holly berries, crocus and yews. The bulbs of amaryllis, daffodils and tulips can cause problems for cats that like to dig and chew. It’s important to remove contact and follow up with your veterinarian as soon as possible if an exposure has occurred.
2) Keep all lilies out of the house. While not all lilies are toxic to cats, a large number of them are. Several species of lilies cause kidney failure in cats. If there is any question whether your lilies are safe or toxic—avoid them altogether.
3) For chewing, always keep a pot of grass seedlings growing—rye, alfalfa or wheat. Cats also love smelling and chewing certain herbs, including parsley and thyme. Both of these will grow indoors. Valerian is another terrific (safe) plant that some cats love.
4) Catnip is great for any cat to chew on. Keep seedlings out of reach of your pet, or your cat may rip it out by the roots and the plant may never reach maturity. Keep in mind, however, not all cats react to catnip. The ability to appreciate the herb is genetic, with more cats loving it than not. Also, kittens under 3 months of age don’t react to catnip at all.
5) For the plants that are too big to hang, you can try coating the leaves with something your cat finds distasteful. Examples: Bitter Apple, a nasty-tasting substance available at any pet store, or Tabasco sauce from the grocery store. You can discourage your pet by shooting him with water from a spray bottle when you see him in the plants.
6) Some cats like to kick dirt around or use pots as litter boxes. This makes perfect sense to your cat, even though it’s annoying to you. You can teach your cat that dirt isn’t for digging and pots aren’t for tipping. Pot your plants in heavy, wide-bottomed containers and cover the soil with decorative rock. Put small plants up high or hang them.
The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org/apcc) has a list of plants that shouldn’t be in any household with cats. Please check your plants against this list. Resolving behavior problems often takes time and involves some compromise and patience on your part. Give your cat some plants that he likes, protect him from the dangerous ones and make the rest less desirable to him. When your cat has his own plants, it’s easier to keep him away from yours. If you don’t sweat the occasional chewed leaf or knocked-over pot, one day your plants will be yours for everyone in the household to enjoy—including your cats.
Dr. Nicholson was born in NY City and graduated from Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She has extensive experience in emergency medicine, surgery, internal medicine, oncology, ophthalmology, dermatology and neurology.